Saturday, March 20, 2010

Grandfather Grapefruit

Everybody loves a good Grapefruit. Okay, maybe not everybody, but a great many people do. The Pomelo (Citrus maxima) is thought to be the ancestor of the grapefruit. It's Grandfather if you will.
Pomelo pronounced [pom-EH-loh] is found spelled pommelo, pumelo, and pompelmous. It is also called Chinese grapefruit, and Shaddock.

Picture courtesy of

It is the largest of the citrus fruits with a shape that can be fairly round or slightly pointed at one end. They can grow to be as large as a foot in diameter and up to 25 pounds. Though I must admit, I have never seen one that big. It tastes like a sweet, mild grapefruit. Like grapefruits, they can range from almost seedless to very seedy, from juicy to dry, from sweet to sour. Pomelos commonly have 16 to 18 segments, compared to most grapefruit that have about 12 segments. There is some labor involved in eating one, it is worth the effort to peel a good pomelo, skin the segments, and eat the juicy pulp. The skinned segments can be broken apart and used in salads and desserts or made into preserves. The extracted juice makes an excellent drink. The peel is sometimes used to make marmalade, or candied, then dipped in chocolate.
The pomelo is native to southeastern Asia and all of Malaysia, it grows wild on the river banks in the Fiji and Friendly Islands. It may have been introduced into China around 100 B.C. The first seeds are believed to have been brought to the New World late in the 17th Century by a Captain Shaddock who stopped at Barbados on his way to England. Hence the reason it is also known as a Shaddock. There are some 22 named cultivars of Pomelo. The Chandler is a Californian variety, with a smoother skin than many other varieties. It is probably the most widely known variety and available in stores today.
You can propagate them from seed. Seedlings usually differ little from their parents and therefore most Pomelos in the Orient are grown this way. Usually the best varieties are grafted or air layered however.
Pomelos may flower 2 to 4 times a year. Other than that, they can be grown just like any other Citrus tree. A unique quality about Pomelos is the fruits keep for long periods and ship well because of the thick peel. After 3 months, the peel will be deeply wrinkled but the pulp will be juicier and of more appealing flavor than in the fresh fruit. If stored too long though, they may become bitter.
I encourage you to find and try a Pomelo. Plant some seeds and grow one for yourself. Bear in mind however, the seedlings could take as much as 10 years to produce fruit. I'll wait.
Happy Growing!


  1. I have a pomelo tree about 5 ft. It is in a pot and I would like to transplant to my yard. Will it survive winter in Charleston, SC Thanks

  2. Darren, you said your citrus trees are in pots. Our zone has changed in Charleston and I was wondering if citrus trees can be planted in ground. I have several lemon, pomelo, etc. I do have a tree that I purchased last spring which has one limb peach, one plum, with total of five different fruits. It survived in the ground last winter.

    1. Hello Anonymous,
      Yes, our zone has changed, but it really is still the same. The plants don't read books.
      Absolutely Citrus will grow in the ground here in Charleston. A couple of years ago they were looking for the Citrus Greening disease by going door to door. The folks at DPI and USDA cataloged 3,033 Citrus trees in Charleston county alone! That is just the ones they found! I am sure they missed some.
      I see two posts by anonymous, if these are by two different people, this response, of course, is for both of you. If you want or need more information, please feel free to e-mail me at

  3. New Bern NC >> Pumelos work?? In ground?? Lemon trees?? Peaches?? Also interested in pears and small apple trees, recommendations??

    Thanks, Rob

    1. Hello Rob,
      Lemon trees will probably not work in the ground. Peaches, yes. Pears and apples, most likely. Pumelos, doubtful, but might be worth a try if you can get some seeds. I would not get an expensive plant to try.